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Concealed carry holster choice is one topic where everyone has an opinion. Carry locations are found all over the body, and the holsters placed on any of those can be constructed in seemingly endless numbers of ways. There are so many options that it might be difficult to decide which carry solution is optimal for you. There are plenty of “cool guy” holsters on the market, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has stood in front of a mirror, admiring the cool look of a particular carry rig from a favorite movie. Admittedly, I have a couple of holsters I wouldn’t carry today after wising up that are kicking around in a box somewhere. Unfortunately, those unused holsters were originally purchased because they just looked cool on someone else and they didn’t fit my reality. They fed more into my misinformed youthful fantasies than anything else. At this point, after many years of responsible carry and integrated combatives training in Sayoc Kali, I’ve found the formula that works for my needs. At the heart of this article is this simple fact: Holster selection should ultimately fall back on reality. Let me ask you, What’s yours?

My circumstances might work for you, or the facts and reality of your situation might dictate another holster solution. Body types, physical conditioning, layers of clothing, environmental factors, quality and quantity of training, range of motion and pistol preferences vary. The sum of all the factors in my reality is guaranteed to be different than yours. The factors that determine the ideal holster, again, should be grounded in your reality.

What follows are holster suggestions I’ve gravitated toward after 15 years of handgun carry.

“A good holster–the right holster for you and your reality–should easily work with your movement and body.”

STICKY HOLSTERS: EASY ON AND OFF

There are times when putting on a sturdy pistol belt, such as those from Center Line Systems, isn’t convenient, but you still want to leave your house prepared. When I head to the gym or run out to the store, I often throw a pistol in my jacket pocket. Even in summer months, when I’m going to and from the river in a pair of board shorts for canoeing or kayaking, I can trust that a Sticky Holster will adhere to my side. And rather than worry about discharging my firearm negligently when a pen, lighter or other pocket-carried object gets caught in the trigger guard, I use a Sticky Holster for my Glock 43 or Smith and Wesson Shield with Streamlight TLR-6.

Smith & Wesson Shield pistol with Streamlight attached, shown next to Sticky holster

The author carries his Smith & Wesson Shield with Streamlight TLR-6 in a Sticky Holster. This holster is also available for a non-light-equipped Shield pistol, as well as hundreds of other models.

I tend to tuck this holster in my appendix region, because I can quick-draw from this centerline position faster than any other spot on my body. With either of my compact slimline 9s, I can readily access enough rounds statistically sufficient to address common threats.

Sticky Holsters are highly modular and not cost prohibitive. From the base ambidextrous design that allows the user to tuck the holster into a waistband and carry comfortably without a belt, the holster can be built up with accessories to allow for ankle carry or be placed almost anywhere with a multi-mount. From my pocket single stacks to my large, all-steel SIG Sauer P220 10mm, I’ve carried pistols in these holsters for many years.

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The only trade-off to this type of carry is reholstering. Reholstering requires making sure the holster throat is open, and it is slower than Kydex. However, if the threat is gone and there is no more shooting to do, there is no need to rush back to your holster.

BLADE-TECH ECLIPSE: TRULY DEDICATED

In terms of belt holsters, the only types I run concealed are inside the waistband or winged. Both holster designs are pulled into the body with a good pistol belt and disappear against my frame. While there are many good manufacturers on the market today, the brand I always come back to is Blade-Tech. Compared with most leather holsters, Kydex allows for easy pistol return. Repeatedly at the range or just after press-checking (press checks are free) before leaving my house, I never have to worry about it collapsing.

Glock 43 in Blade-Tech Eclipse OWB CCW holster

The Blade-Tech Eclipse is a modular holster capable of inside- or outside-the-waistband carry. The author carries his Glock 43 comfortably in this holster.

Many times when I’m at the range, I’ll run drills from concealment to build in proper draws from the holster. This means returning the pistol to the holster after each repetition. Far too many shooters fail to train on all aspects of hand gunning, including presentation. They have great marksmanship when their handgun is out, but getting it from the holster is their weak link. For safety, the Blade-Tech Eclipse is the model I trust for repeated reps to and from my holster.

Glock 43 pistol in Blade-Tech Eclipse OWB holster

The author wears the Blade-Tech Eclipse configured in OWB carry.

The Eclipse is the latest version of the company’s IWB holster lineup featuring a wing construction and different belt loop mounting options. The wings prevent the pistol from rocking forward or backward, which creates an inconsistent cant of the grip. The solid “snap” retention lets me know my handgun is secured with the slide forward or locked back for one-handed reloading. Also, I prefer Kydex construction because of my active lifestyle. I can literally wash it off under a faucet after hiking through the woods, sweating on it or getting it dirty.

Man holding up Glock 43 in Blade-Tech Eclipse OWB holster, without magazine and slide retracted

The author’s Glock 43 snaps firmly into his holster for one-handed reloading. The retention holds the pistol securely, as demonstrated by holding the holster and pistol upside down without the handgun falling free.

The Optimal Defensive Loadout for EDC

1. FLASHLIGHT
Human beings can’t see in the dark, so I carry a quality flashlight such as my Streamlight Pro-Tac 1L-1AA. Anyone who carries a pistol without a weapon light or handheld flashlight assumes the only fight he will get into is when he will be able to see his target. Darkness is real, and night sights, alone, don’t make you shoot more accurately. How can you squeeze the trigger if you can’t figure out what is past your sights?

2. FIXED BLADE 
I can’t stress the importance of carrying a knife that doesn’t require an extra step from concealed carry to ready for action. The only exception is an Emerson Wave-equipped folder. A blade can be used effectively against a  threat and can be deployed faster than a firearm. Modern-day combatives training and execution are evolving  toward the multi-weapon (pistol and knife) approach.

EDC items that include a Smith & Wesson Shield pistol in a Sticky holster, flashlight, spare magazines, cellphone, fixed-blade knife, multi-tool and tourniquets

Everyday carry will vary from person to person. Pictured is the author’s personal summer-weight EDC, including a Winkler Knives II Operator, Streamlight Pro-Tac 1L-1AA flashlight, R.A.T.S. Tourniquet, Victorinox Spirit, S&W Shield, Blue Force Gear Double Mag Pouch and cell phone.

3. MULTI-TOOL
Firearms are mechanical tools held together with screws and pins. Sometimes, it’s easier to clean a pistol or long gun with the right tools. A quality multi-tool such as the Leatherman Mut can help keep your firearm up and running—let alone open battle packs of ammo, cut bullet groupings out of shot targets and handle any other knife-related tasks.

Close-up shot of Leatherman multi-tool, chest rig and spare magazines

Depending on the task at hand, the author swaps gear for more-specific purposes. Pictured is his  High Speed Gear Inc. chest rig and Leatherman MUT tool.

4. TOURNIQUET
Tourniquets can be purchased for less than $20. They weigh mere ounces and can save lives. Tourniquets can be applied in seconds when that might be all you have before bleeding out. I carry one in my workbag every day, one in my car and one on my water bottle kit. If you carry tools that can puncture and lacerate, carry a tourniquet. You never know when you’ll need one.

5. SPARE MAGAZINE(S) 
A magazine that malfunctions leaves you with a single-shot pistol. Even the most reputable and reliable handguns can drop a mag unintentionally when the user accidentally hits the release button or when it is lost in a scuffle. A spare magazine—or two, if the weight isn’t too much to carry—should always be carried to gas up your handgun. The weight of the magazine(s) also helps even out the load carried on the belt.

6. CHARGED CELL PHONE WITH CONTACTS SAVED
If you end up using your concealed handgun, the police will show up. Yours should be the first phone call they receive, and you should relay all important information to them. Once they are contacted and know you used your firearm for self-defense (avoid identifying yourself as “shooter”), describe your appearance and location, along with the fact that you still have your firearm. When the police arrive, ask to go to the hospital for evaluation before anything else; after all, you are in shock. Make sure your “one call,” if necessary after the fact, is to someone who knows your level of readiness. This phone call need not be to a lawyer if your contact will get in touch with the right lawyer, along with your family, for additional information.

“A good holster–the right holster for you and your reality–should easily work with your movement and body.”

BLADE-TECH CLASSIC OWB: BATTLE BELT READY

My firearms training varies depending on whether I am working on my own, at the SIG Academy or working with the Sayoc Tactical Group. Drawing from concealment sometimes means wearing an outer garment, and sometimes, it means carrying a lot of weight on a battle belt. Extra magazines for my AR and shells for my shotgun are carried on this belt. That tends to get in the way of appendix carry or even standard inside-the-waistband carry at the 3 o’clock position.

In my opinion, it’s easier, more practical and appropriate to carry OWB under a jacket. This is especially the case in the cooler weather where I live in New England or when I travel to colder destinations where a T-shirt can provide concealment but far too little insulation for the weather. When concealment garments are heavier, I tend to opt for a Classic OWB holster from Blade-Tech. This holster attaches to a wide instructor’s belt or pistol belt with a Fastex buckle and has adjustable retention with a couple of screws. It’s a no-frills holster that
just works for reps—thousands of them—and holds my pistol securely while changing levels and positions.

It isn’t the most concealable holster, but it doesn’t have to be under a parka or when the SHTF and you’re carrying more on your belt than usual. This holster is also the one I’ve worn openly in “gun-friendly” outdoor settings when quickly getting to my pistol is the priority. After all, with a pistol carried in a holster such as this, you simply have to achieve master grip and draw without the need to fan or lift a garment out of the way.

Center Line Systems’ KeyDC

The Center Line Systems KeyDC (short for “key daily carry”) is designed to organize and securely carry last-ditch survival equipment on a daily basis. Inspired by the “final option” kit described in The Survival & Evasion Manual of the United States Rescue & Special Operations Group’s 6 Ways In and 12 Ways Out (George W. Jasper, author), this pouch is meant to hold a small cutting blade, ferro rod, fish hooks, button compass, Kevlar cord, stitching needles, water purification tablets or anything else customized by the user. The KeyDC can also be used for lock-pick/surreptitious-entry kits; a deep-concealment wallet that is paracord-tied inside the waistband for travel in high-risk areas; as a “runner’s wallet” for the active; or as a minimalist wallet that will hold identification, one or two credit cards and some cash.

Center Line Systems KeyDC with folding knives, handcuff keys, lockpicks and paracord

The Center Line Systems KeyDC is perfect for holding last-ditch equipment for emergencies or
organizing surreptitious entry tools.

The KeyDC is small enough to carry tucked in the appendix region, making detection difficult. As opposed to a small mint tin, the KeyDC allows the user better access and organization to the most crucial emergency items and protects them in a rugged housing. Meant for daily carry, this pouch is small and light enough to disappear in the pocket or be worn around the neck on the same cord as a suspended small neck knife. Used in conjunction with concentric layers of preparedness, it is an excellent addition to an individual’s readiness plan.

The KeyDC measures 3 (W) x 3.5 (L) x 3/8 inches (thickness) and weighs ¾ ounce empty. There are four elastic slots and two sleeve pockets. The KeyDC is made from 500D nylon and has a hook-and-loop morale patch panel, hook-and-loop strip closure and two webbing tie-down points on the exterior. Center Line Systems is combat-veteran-owned and, like all their gear, the KeyDC is made in the United States from American-made materials.

Editor’s note: Center Line Systems KeyDC is available at an introductory price of $19.99.

KIFARU KOALA LITE CHEST RIG: BACKCOUNTRY PROTECTION

For backcountry travel, I prefer a reliable concealed carry chest rig. The farther I travel from home, the larger my pistol choice. The Kifaru Koala Lite allows me to carry a full-sized pistol such as my HK45, as well as two magazines, in the main compartment; and there is plenty of room in the accessory pocket for my usual EDC items (wallet, Swiss Army Knife, lighter and so on).

Man wearing Kifaru Koala Lite chest rig while riding in a helicopter

The author wore the Kifaru Koala Lite chest pack while riding in a bush plane in Alaska.

The benefit of this type of holster is being able to take items off my belt, where they won’t be covered or encumbered by mypack’s hipbelt. With a single pull of a tab, my pistol is revealed, and because it is carried high on the chest, it doesn’t have to travel far to be pushed out for an appropriate sight picture once it is drawn.

Kifaru Koala Lite pack attached to Kifaru Tailgunner pack while outdoors

The author can piggyback his Kifaru Koala Lite pack on his Kifaru Tailgunner Pack. This allows him to grab his daypack and pistol in a single motion before leaving his house.

I carried this particular rig through the Brooks Range of Alaska for three weeks, and despite rain, snow, dirt and debris, my pistol was protected and always ready for action. As a hammock camper, I learned I could continue to wear this holster in my “bear taco” shelter. The holster is positioned on my chest, so I don’t have to worry about shifting to my side to access my pistol off my hip. I can access my handgun in a flash and present it from what seems to be an incredibly vulnerable position.

HK45 pistol with two magazines inside Kifaru Koala Lite Chest rig

The Kifaru Koala Lite easily carries large-framed handguns
such as the author’s HK45, as well as two reloads.

When I am not using this chest rig for hiking, I keep it loaded with a handgun, spare magazines, Sticky Holster, a blade and some basic emergency gear. This holster system becomes a “grab-and-go” bag. It ensures I have a fighting-sized handgun with weapon light and spare mags to stay in the fight. When I travel long distances in my car, I keep it next to me on the front seat, along with my camera. In fact, it has been mistaken for a camera bag on more than one occasion. Neither camera nor pistol is ever left out in the open for thieves to spot.

The reality of being a responsibly armed citizen is different than that of an armed professional. Unlike law enforcement, we don’t have a duty to respond to threats across town. Chances are that our awareness and preparation will create a bubble of security in which we might never encounter a threat. That doesn’t mean we should cast preparedness aside and leave the house without any form of concealed carry, or “naked,” so to speak.

“Holster selection should ultimately fall back on reality.”

We should also be realistic with how much we carry: Too much concealed carry gear can interfere with normal movement and attire, making us look like an anomaly because of the way we walk or constantly shift our gear around while trying to maintain concealment. A good holster—the right holster for you and your reality—should easily work with your movement and body. Conversely, the wrong concealed carry holster will make you work while carrying it. Focusing too much on your concealed carry gear can get in the way of being observant of your surroundings.

Remember, too, that the gun you have on you is better than the gun you leave home. So, make sure you carry enough gun… in the right holster.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.